Monday, August 29, 2011

Charitable Giving in Asia

A recent report stated that wealthy, older Asians focus charitable giving on health, education, and the elimination of poverty. In contrast, the younger (not defined) wealthier set take a "more global approach" focusing on the environment, human rights, and the arts. Of those surveyed, 42 percent stated that the main goal behind charitable giving was to promote their family's core values.

Again, it is wonderful to read about charitable donations, however, media coverage makes it appear that only the ultra wealthy are able to give. I would bet that middle-income folks from around the world would also state that the primary motivation behind charitable giving is to nurture a core value.

If you have a story about a middle-class philanthropist, please let me is the subject of a book I am writing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Life and Death Matters Festival

Last week I came across a web site for an interesting venue, Life and Death Matters (LAD) Festival. Set in Boulder, Colorado, the festival aims to explore issues related to living and dying through various media; books, films, performances, classes, etc. It runs Sept. 1st - 4th, 2011.

Talking about these topics is never easy, but festivals like this help. Attend, and learn about life and death. Read, and share with others. If you want to bring up the topic of estate planning with a loved one, discussing topics like this is a nice way to break the ice.

Monday, August 22, 2011

$20 Million Bequest to Aid La Crosse Wisconsin Community

According to this report, a $20 million foundation has been created in the name of Robert and Eleanor Franke. Having built a fortune with a career in railroad industry, Franke wanted to give back. While I love hearing about such generous giving, I hope amounts like $20 million don't discourage middle class folks from being charitable. Every penny can make the difference in the world of a non-profit. Ways to make a difference include naming a non-profit:
  • in your will as a primary or contingent beneficiary in your will;
  • on your life insurance as a primary or secondary beneficiary;
  • as a primary or secondary beneficiary on your retirement accounts;
  • creating a charitable trust; or
  • leaving the charity a specific item to auction or sell (vehicle, collection, home, etc.).
As always, seek legal counsel prior to making or changing your estate plan.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Money Conference Presentation Coming Up

This coming Saturday I will be giving a presentation on Wills and Other Important Documents at The Money Conference, sponsored by Asset Builders. The 1 hour seminar will provide a basic educational overview to estate planning concepts and help people generate a plan to do their documents on their own if they cannot afford an attorney. I will be one of twenty presenters, with topics ranging from how to read a credit score to meals in a flash for cash.

When: Saturday, August 20th
Time: 7:30 am registration, presentations go until 1pm
Where: MATC Truax Campus

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blank Life Insurance Forms

Earlier in the week a fellow attorney posted a question to Wisconsin's Estate Planning distribution list -- is it normal for an insurance company to have a clause in life insurance policies that states "if the beneficiary is blank the benefit will be paid:
  1. to a surviving spouse, if none;
  2. to children, if none;
  3. to parents, if none;
  4. to siblings, if none;
  5. to the estate.
The attorney was surprised the estate was so far down the list. Apparently she had a client who had had a will disinheriting his relatives (a.k.a heirs at law), but did not put that intention on his/her life insurance policy. The end result, the life insurance policy will follow the distribution in the contract, not the will.

When creating or updating an estate plan it is wise to work with an attorney focused on estate planning and to make sure a review of your beneficiary forms is include. If your uncertain about what will happen, ask your attorney.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Elder Hmong Home Care Services Emerge

SoSaib Care, Inc. (shaw-SHEE-ah) has been providing home care services since 2003, but recently switched from intensive to personal care. This agency, taking its name from the Hmong phrase "tender love and care" is allowing Hmong elders to stay at home, following cultural customs and savings on costs. The agency provides care for all ethnic groups, but does focus on providing culturally relevant care while at the same time keeping people out of nursing homes.

I found this article to be an interesting concept -- caring for our elders, recognizing cultural customs, and minimizing government expense. It seems like a win for all involved. I'm curious to see if other like-minded agencies will emerge in the future?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Terry Pratchett's Thoughts on Assisted Suicide

Last week N.P.R.'s Morning Edition ran a brief interview with author Terry Pratchett who has been diagnosed with a form of dementia. Facing a bleak diagnosis he reflects on assisted suicides in Switzerland, his role to bring that option to residents of England, and his ambition to finish is next book.

As the population ages, I'm certain we'll see more and more discussion in the public arena about a person's ability/inability to direct their final days and end of life experiences.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What To Do With A Will That Contains SSN?

This month a client came to my office; her husband had died and she needed help updating her will and powers of attorney and wanted advice on "closing out matters" related to her husband's death. They were married, and his probate estate was less than $50,000. However, a will existed, and needed to be filed with the probate court (under Wisconsin Statutes, Section 856.05) a will must be filed with the probate court within 30 days of death....even if probate is not needed. The problem in this matter was that the drafting attorney (not me) included the decedent's Social Security Number. A will, once filed, becomes a public document. And it is not wise to have a SSN in a public document. After speaking with the court, I will file the will along with a letter requesting that the file be sealed. Altering a will is not acceptable practice. Always seek advice from legal experts!

This post is meant to be educational, and should not be read as legal advice.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bathtub Shrine Found In Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Construction crews developing a parcel of land in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin for new Woodmans grocery store made an interesting discovery last week -- they found a bathtub shrine. Apparently these shrines were common in the 1950s among Catholic families.

"...became popular in the 1950s as people began spending money after years of frugality during WWII.....Lots of bathrooms were remodeled. All of a sudden the old oval bathtub made perfect devotional shrines". - Lisa Stone, co-author of a book on Midwestern grottos.

According to the developer, the shrine was to be removed. No further details on its disposition were noted.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

McFarland Cemetery Running Out of Room

This weekend the Wisconsin State Journal ran a story on the Village of McFarland and a current problem -- its last cemetery with available plots is running out of room. Expansion is unlikely because land is either not available or if it is, the owner wants "developer" prices. I found it odd that the reporter did not mention the growth in green burials or other alternatives to traditional burials.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject

According to the write-up, this film (Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject) pushes people beyond the normal boundaries of estate planning. Beyond putting together a will. Beyond buying a burial plot. And encourages people to push into the hard discussion, end-of-life care. Produced by two Madison men, Mike Bernhagen and Terry Kaldhusdal, it is a look into people's final days. The film features Dr. James Cleary, on oncologist at UW Hospital, a nationally known authority on palliative care, and the man who counseled my family as my father transitioned from curative to palliative care in 2009.

Having gained a lot of buzz on Public Television, it will air in the Madison area:
  • 9pm, Wednesday, 8/10/11
  • 2pm, Thursday, 8/11/11 and
  • 8am, Friday, 8/12/11
It will be aired on channel 21-1 over the air, or Charter Cable Channel 972. I plan to watch Wednesday evening.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tribal Land, Wills, and Mistakes

I never let my clients sign their papers without me being present. Why? Because the signings is vital to the document being upheld in court. This practice method of mine is underscored in the following case, currently working its way through the court system surrounding tribal land in North Carolina:

  • women dies in Kentucky, leaving land she owned in North Carolina to her children. She had been a member of a Native American Tribe, her children were not, and the land had previously been a part of the tribal land. Under tribal law, only members could own it. Her children were not members. Challenging the will, with only one witness (North Carolina required two) the tribe reclaimed the land.
Law can sometimes boil down to technicalities. Never assume your situation is not complex. It is always wise to have an attorney either craft or review your estate plan.

Friday, August 5, 2011

US Life Expectancy, 77 Years

Based on 2007 data, the average US life expectancy is 77 years. It takes on a different meaning when broken down:
  • 28,105 days;
  • 674,520 hours;
  • 40,471,200 minutes; or
  • 2,428,272,000 seconds.
I came across this power numerical representation in the book, So Grows The Tree: Creating an Ethical Will by Jo Kline Cebuhar, J.D.

Reading this makes you think twice about doing things you really do not love. It also underscores the importance of taking control, and putting wishes on paper. Time flies.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

John F. Kennedy, Motivation, and Estate Planning

Recently I came across a wonderful quote:

Is your estate plan out of date or non-existent? Don't wait to cross this task off your to-do list until you are in the hospital. Now, while life is calm, is the time to tackle the hard questions associated with powers of attorneys, wills, and the like.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: So Grows The Tree: Creating an Ethical Will

"Ethical will" is a term that has gained increased recognition in recent years. I'd heard the term, but even though I am an estate planning attorney, I was not exactly sure what one was. Then I read So Grows The Tree: Creating an Ethical Will by Jo Kline Cebuhar, J.D. Her book quickly draws you in, reads quickly, is sprinkled with motivating quotes, and ends with a road map to creating your own ethical will.

Inspired by a letter, or ethical will, left by her Uncle Bill, the author provides the reader with definitions, historical context, contemporary examples, and steps create ones own document. Based on this text, I walked away understanding that an ethical will is an expression of the creators:
  1. beliefs and values;
  2. life lessons; and
  3. hopes for the future.
Do not confuse it with a "will", which is a legal document whereby you nominate guardians for children, personal representatives, and distribute probate property at death. Nor is it a "living will", also known as a declaration to physicians, stating your wishes on health care if you are in an end of life state. An "ethical will" is a means of crafting an enduring message. It can embellish your genealogical research and family tree. Moreover, an ethical will does not have to be in a written form, although that is common. It can be an audio recording, video taped message, embellished journal, scrapbook, or photo album.

Once you have your legal papers in place (i.e. powers of attorney, will, etc.), embrace your creative side and consider crafting an ethical will. It is a lovely process in an area of somber documents. I highly recommend reading So Grows The Tree: Creating an Ethical Will by Jo Kline Cebuhar, J.D. as you go down this path.

Real Estate Transfer Form and Fee

Recently I worked with some return clients who wanted to adjust the deed to their home. It was listed in both names, but as an unmarried couple and without the phrase "right of survivorship", the house would be subject to probate upon the first person's death. So, they opted to re-title it "joint tenancy with the right of survivorship". A quick call to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue confirmed that simply re-stating how title is held does NOT trigger the need to file a Wisconsin Real Estate Transfer Form and Fee; there was no actual conveyance and it was exempt. My overall point? Check with Wisconsin DOR before adding or adjusting names on a want to make sure you are not missing a filing fee or requirement.

As always, I advise you to obtain legal counsel from an attorney....this blog is intended for discussion and education, it is not legal advice.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

5 Things To Consider When Hiring An Estate Planning Attorney

A few weeks ago I met with a new client. During the first meeting she handed me a will that had been prepared for her last year, shortly after her husband had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. One glance at the will and my first question was, "did a lawyer prepare this -- your SSN is included, and that is not standard practice?" Her response, "yes, but I think he is now in jail." Then, I recently came across this LA Times article explaining how a California lawyer was charged with stealing money and guns from the estate of a deceased friend. The lawyer even committed fraud by filing papers with the court stating he was the executor, when in fact, he was not nominated in the will.

Lawyers are not cheap, so keep the following in mind before hiring one to do your estate plan:
  1. Find an attorney who focuses on estate planning and probate - the jack of all traits lawyer is part of the past. One with a focus will have the most knowledge about drafting a will, and more experience;
  2. Ask friends, family, or other service providers you use (accountant, financial planner, insurance person) for a referral. If they know an attorney they'll either love or hate him/her;
  3. Meet with at least 3 attorneys, even via phone, to determine his/her personality and style. You'll have to share details of your financial and family life with this person. To get the best advice you have to feel comfortable sharing with him/her;
  4. Check the prospective lawyer out with the regulatory system. In Wisconsin that would be Office of Lawyer Regulation, and the State Bar of Wisconsin has information on whether the person is a member of the Bar; and
  5. Upon hiring a lawyer, have them put their terms of service in a contract. I call mine a legal services agreement. It spells out my scope of practice, the services I will offer, the fee structure, when payments are due, and terms for alternative dispute resolution.
Of course there are more factors than these, but keep this list in mind as you seek out counsel for your estate planning and probate needs.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gustafson Law Office's New Location

Today is our first day in our new location, 313 Price Place, Suite 204 in Madison. We're in the La Feyette Building next to the Great Dane at Hilldale Mall. Our previous location was in historic downtown Madison, but now I am able to enjoy walking or biking to work -- what a wonderful commute!